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From Poland to PA for Presidential Care

by UPMC

Ray Wojcik couldn’t trust his eyesight to just anyone. He wanted the best. If Dr. David Cute, ophthalmologist, was good enough for the White House—he was good enough for him. So, he flew halfway around the world for glaucoma surgery.

Ophthalmologist to the White House

The relationship between Ray and Dr. Cute began 10 years ago at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Ray was in the U.S. Army and working at the Pentagon at the time and Dr. Cute was the glaucoma specialist in the Department of Ophthalmology at Walter Reed, assigned to provide care to all White House staff including the President of the United States.

Ray was diagnosed with glaucoma in 2010. If left untreated, glaucoma builds pressure inside your eye and can damage your optic nerve—and even lead to blindness. Like many people that have glaucoma, Ray had no symptoms. During a routine eye exam, he was found to have increased pressure in his eyes, meaning he might have glaucoma.

“Dr. Cute performed my cataract surgery and trabeculectomy, a surgical treatment for glaucoma, at Walter Reed in 2011,” said Ray. “I chose him at the time because my colleagues at the Pentagon highly recommended him.”

The trabeculectomy in Ray's left eye has continued to keep the eye pressure at a safe level, however, earlier this year the pressure in Ray's right eye began to slowly rise again and he knew he might need another surgery. Although he is living in Poland, he could only think of one surgeon for the surgery, Dr. Cute, which meant traveling halfway across the world to Williamsport.

From Warsaw to Williamsport

“The medical care is good in Poland, but I couldn’t see a way to get this kind of specialized surgery there,” recalls Ray. “Certainly not with anyone I trusted like I do Dr. Cute.”

Ray contacted Dr. Cute’s office and began arranging for a window of time that he could travel to UPMC Williamsport for the procedure. Ray thought he likely needed surgery again, but he knew he needed a thorough examination and work-up before he would know for sure. They scheduled the appointment for March 15, 2020 and Ray planned his trip from Warsaw.

A Pandemic Suspends Travel

Shortly before he was planning to travel, the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread, closing borders and halting international travel.

When pressure is building in the eye, the optic nerve can be damaged, so Ray and Dr. Cute knew that this trip couldn’t wait for too long. Soon, guidelines were released for how to travel

safely, and Ray continued to work with Dr. Cute’s office to arrange an appropriate time for appointments, now with the added two-week quarantine for consideration.

In early April, the airport in Warsaw reopened and Ray and his wife Hanna traveled to Williamsport to begin their quarantine. As soon as safely possible, Dr. Cute met with Ray.

“Dr. Cute did all the workups and we discussed my options,” said Ray. “As I suspected, surgery was my best option for long-term success.”

The Second Surgery

Ray“A trabeculectomy is an involved procedure and the postoperative follow-up care can be involved in order to closely monitor the eye's healing response,” said Dr. Cute. “It is a procedure well-suited for more severe cases of glaucoma as it will typically result in very good eye pressure control over the long-term. In Ray's case, due to his glaucoma being more severe, he and I felt it was best to proceed with a trabeculectomy for his right eye.”

During this surgery, which took place at UPMC Muncy, a tiny piece of the wall of the eye, which includes the eye’s natural drain is removed. This opens a new drain and creates a bypass to reduce eye pressure. The eye pressure lowers because fluid can now drain out of the eye through the new opening. The fluid is then absorbed by the body.

“Dr. Cute makes you feel very comfortable. He explains every step of the procedure and the recovery, including any complications that could occur,” said Ray. “The team of people that took care of me, from the registration desk to the operating room and through the recovery area were outstanding.”

This is a complex surgery, as the eye needs to heal correctly but the drain must remain open. Therefore, considerable follow-up care may be necessary as the eye heals. Ray was no exception, so he stayed in Williamsport until he had the all-clear from Dr. Cute to travel again.

A fortunate circumstance of the pandemic, Ray was able to work remotely from his hotel room while he prepared for surgery and the recovery period.

Successful Recovery in Picturesque Pennsylvania

The surgery was a success, and Ray’s eye pressure was even better than normal after his recovery. Ray and his wife also got to enjoy the beautiful scenery around Pennsylvania during the recovery. They visited Tioga County, Pine Creek, and explored everything the small towns surrounding Williamsport had to offer.

“I have seen ophthalmologists around the world, and I trust Dr. Cute more than anyone," said Ray. "He's a real pro."